My stepfather, once jokingly shared this nugget of wisdom; You can be rich and happy or you can be poor and happy. Better to be rich and happy.
In spite of the growing gap between rich and poor. Happiness not a factor of monetary liquidity
Today, in light of this gospel message. I imagine my father was encouraging me to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ regardless of how much money I would make in the future.
So I wonder what good news this lesson has for us would be Jesus followers today.
There was a rich guy who put on a feast. There was a poor guy called Lazarus,which means God is my help, who came to the unnamed rich guy’s gate begging for help.
The rich guy didn’t help.
Luke 16:22 “The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side.
This is consistent with the meta-narrative of reversal of fortune theology that we read throughout the Gospel of Luke.
If we stop here; the good news is that If you are rich in this life you are going to be tortured in the next. And likewise if you are tortured by poverty in this life don’t worry just hang in there and you will be rewarded for your pain. Either way this is not very good news.
Luckily the story continues. The rich guy as he is burning in hell, calls out to Abraham (patriarch of Israel). Hey, help a good son of Abraham out, send that poor guy; Lazarus to bring me a drink of cool water.
Abraham tells him
26 [but] between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
So if we pause here the gospel warns us that the divisions that we make in the world become fixed as insurmountable chasms.
We are all created in God’s image.
When we buy into the us and them mentality we fix a great chasm that severs the very image of God that has been imprinted on all humanity.
One does not have to look too far to discover these divisions: Rich or poor; Female or Male; Gay or Straight; Churched or Unchurched; Young or Old. Each of these divisions fix (that is make permanent, not repair) the chasm that we read about today.
John Wesley the founder of a 18 century, vital church initiative, that would birth the United Methodist Church said this about the chasm between rich and poor.
“One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is, that, according to the common observation, one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorances an excuse for their hardness of heart. - John Wesley Sermon on Visiting the Sick.
The early methodist sought to ignite vitality in their faith by overcoming the divisions and engaging in relational ministry with the poor.
This is better news than the reversal of fortune theology that urges the poor to hang in there, the rich will get it in the end.
The gospel and our methodist history seem to suggest that even rich people can work out their salvation if they offer charity to the poor.
But building life transformative relational ministry is more than just writing a check or hiring a staff member, or engaging in a short term mission project.
The gospel story continues…
27 [The rich guy] said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
The unnamed rich guy says to Abraham let my five rich brother know that they should write some checks and offer ministry to the poor so they can avoid the hell he is experiencing. Abraham says the brothers have the holy scriptures that say things like
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
And yet they still don’t engage in this life transforming relational ministry. Divisions between rich and poor get bigger and the eschatological chasm deepens, and the image of God in all of us remains fractured.
The unnamed rich guy pleads:
30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke is alluding to Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. Even with the knowledge that Jesus served with the “poor” through life, death and resurrection, those of us who desire to follow Jesus will still get it wrong.
Nadia Bolz-Webber offers some helpful wisdom about relational ministry in Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people.
While we as people of God are certainly called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that whole “we’re blessed to be a blessing” thing can still be dangerous. It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world waiting to descend on those below so we can be the “blessing” they’ve been waiting for, like it or not.
We can start to see the poor as supporting characters in a big story about how noble, selfless and helpful we are.
Christ’s presence is not embodied in those who feed the hungry (as important as that work is), but Christ’s presence is in the hungry being fed.
To be clear the poor and hungry are not a romantic special class of Christ-like people. And those who meet their needs are not a romantic special class of Christlike people. We are all equally as sinful and saintly as the other. No Christ comes to us in the needs of the poor and hungry, needs that are met by another so that the gleaming redemption of God might be known.
No one gets to play Jesus. But we get to experience Jesus in that holy place where we meet others’ needs and have our own needs met. We are all the needy and the ones who meet needs. - NBW Accidental Saints.
We are all in need and at the same time we are all meeting the needs of others. It's in this relationship of mutual need that we encounter Christ who helps restore the fractured image of God for all of us.
Remember only the poor guy had a name in the gospel story. The rich guy was nameless. Only one name between the two of these characters Lazarus which means God is our help. What if God is the one who helps us all. And what if we only truly encounter the helping power of God when we enter into these missional relationships with people on the other side of the fence? And that it's in this moment when Christ restores God’s image on all of us.
So the challenge is for us who desire to follow Jesus is not just engage or fund ministry to the poor. Overcoming the Chasm that disrupts the image of God in all of us requires all of us to be in relational ministry with each other. Rich and poor; Female and male; Gay and straight; Churched and unchurched; young and old.
I leave you with this observation. UUMC has an aspiration to minister to the campus community. I wonder do we have the missional conviction to engage in life transforming relationship with these young adults on the other side of Harrison road. Are we ready to open the Harrison Road door? Are we willing to cross the road and connect with those who may never have the inclination to even knock on our door?
I have been inspired this week by the relational work that was begun with our International Day of Peace event on Thursday Black and Blue Healing conversations. There we started a conversation across the chasm of ethnic diversity that ought to continue for real transformation. I am encouraged because we all have resources for this work of healing.
My prayer for you this week is that you would experience Christ’s restoration of God’s image in you in the relational ministry that you engage in.